08/22/2014 05:37 pm ET Updated Oct 22, 2014

The Spaces Between

Kristin Shaw

I don't know about you, but as a GO GO GO, Type-A kind of person, it's tempting for me to fill up all of my time with "scheduled fun" for my family. Swimming lessons. Let's go to the museum. Meet me at the playground. Sign up for camp.

Slow down, I tell myself in the midst of planning the next set of endeavors. And I realize the richness of slowing down when I stop to find a space between the exclamation marks. Sometimes I feel like I am LIVING IN CAPITAL LETTERS and forget to appreciate the spaces... the breath I would take with a comma... the languid pause of ellipses.

It's an instance like this that slows the pace: my son accompanied me to the mall, and we walked into the dressing room so I could try on a few things. I was hanging my selection on the silver bar when I heard him squeal in pain; he had pulled the dressing room door closed on his finger. I dropped the clothes and gathered him into my arms and we rocked on the floor as he cried. Back and forth, back and forth, the rhythm calmed him and I paid attention to the moment. It was quiet in the room because the store had just opened, and it was just the two of us, connected and not doing anything but rocking. I became aware of the weight of him in my arms, and time seemed to stop as I tried to capture it as a still frame in my memory.

I tried to appreciate these moments while he was a baby, rocking him in the dark in his room, but too often I didn't. I was distracted by the need for sleep and time to myself and time with my husband. I was blinded by postpartum anxiety and fear and worry.

Some days, I struggle to focus, and I deliberately call out each sense by name in my head after he falls asleep, nestled next to me. The scent of baby mixed with little-boy sweat. The sight of his eyelashes brushing his cheeks. The touch of his small arm against mine. During the day, I remind myself to stay present when I have new projects and assignments weighing on my mind. Partitioning my time is more difficult as a part-time freelancer than I thought it would be, because I have a hard time turning off the work brain and going back and forth. It's a challenge I didn't anticipate this summer, trying to juggle it and feeling as though I was failing at both work and parenting, sometimes.

This is what well-meaning veteran mothers mean when they tell new members of the motherhood clan to enjoy every moment. They know, with certainty, how futile it is to tell them. But they know, as surely as I know now, exactly what we have missed. They hope by telling you to enjoy the moment that you might recapture one that they missed. They hope that you will make up for the times that they could not focus. They wish that you would see what they did not, at the time.

From my place in the middle of the generational sandwich, I also see time from the perspective of a daughter who is only now realizing the full value of having two loving parents in my life. I know now that I missed the opportunity to ask so many questions of my grandparents while they were alive, and I'm trying hard to make up for that by asking my parents to share their stories. My mother is a willing participant and even writes down her memories, sometimes. My father is more reticent, not intentionally but by nature; every memory I elicit from him is hard work but rewarding.

Now I know exactly what my favorite children's book author, Madeleine L'Engle, meant by "a wrinkle in time," for I am sure that the folds of the decades between my 20th and 40th birthday were merely brought together like the edges of a flat sheet and did not actually elapse.

Tonight, my husband asked me to stop working, turn off the lights and watch the lightning out the window to the west. I hesitated, trying to finish this essay. Then I shut my laptop, flipped the light switch and watched and waited. The spaces between the busy is where the best parts of my life reside.

I may not enjoy every single moment, but I am for damn sure going to try.